When did you discover anime? Share as much as you remember. In retrospect, I saw My Neighbor Totoro on VHS as a little kid because I wanted the cute plush that came with it, but I didn’t know it was anime. Sailor Moon was the first anime I recognized as such, and it spurred my love for the genre as a whole. I was at a Farm & Fleet of all places, one of the most boring stores in the world to my 12-year-old self, but near Christmas, they added toys every year. I saw these superheroine dolls and got really excited because one shared my name (Amy), favorite color (blue), favorite food (sandwiches), and favorite school subject (at the time, math—not so much in later years). I was a huge X-Men fan and I loved that these superpowered girls seemed to be about my age. I asked for Sailor Mercury for Christmas and then figured out it was from a “cartoon show” that was airing in syndication at the time. I had to record it on my VCR each morning because I wasn’t getting up that early. Once I got into the show, I was hooked. It took another few months for me to see Sailor Moon on the cover of an issue of Animerica, and from there, I started buying, renting, and trading more anime series. Some of my earliest other favorites were Ranma 1/2, Slayers, and Dragon Ball Z.
What appealed to you about anime when you first discovered it? I loved the art style and the uniqueness of the stories I encountered. I was especially excited to see an all-young-girl team of superheroes since I was a big superhero comic reader and none of the series I read were about girls just like my friends and me—until Sailor Moon.
What was the first anime you got really invested in? How did you express your fandom? Definitely Sailor Moon. For a few years there, it was practically my only anime obsession, although it slowly led me to other ’90s anime. As far as expressing my fandom, I bought every piece of (mostly American) merchandise I could find—which wasn’t that easy to do at the time. But even finding something dumb I’d never use like a Sailor Moon manicure kit at a Shopko was enough to get me excited. I even got a Sailor Moon ice cream bar from an ice cream truck and cleaned the wrapper so I could keep it for years afterward. (I eventually did throw it away…)
What was it like to be a part of anime fandom at the time? It was a lot less connected. We had slow Internet, and I spent a lot of time on the Save Our Sailors website and a few AOL Sailor Moon chat rooms, but it wasn’t until I found some anime-loving pen pals (snail mail) that I made some anime-loving friends. Some of my school friends caught a few episodes of Sailor Moon, but they mostly weren’t interested in the same geeky things I was.
Was the Internet a part of fandom at the time? See above. The Internet was harder (and more expensive) to access, so I didn’t spend much time at all online. My pen pals were the best. I wrote to 100 or so at one time. I had a lot more free time on my hands. I still keep in touch with around ten of them online almost every day, but I’ve gone from writing 10 letters a week to two letters a year to no letters at all for the past few years.
How did you meet pen pals to send snail mail? What kind of things did you put in your letters? I’ve written letters since I was about six years old. Originally, I got some international pen pals through a post office program. Eventually, one of those international pen pals, a Japanese one, sent me what’s called a “Friendship Book” (“FB” before Facebook existed!), and it had a list of addresses and people’s ages and interests. She sent me an anime-themed FB, knowing I loved Sailor Moon, and I wrote to everyone around my age in that particular book—mostly other Americans. They introduced me to their pen pals and sent me more FBs in the mail until at one point I had easily around 60-70 pen pals going at once. This was before the Internet was quite as prevalent, so I had more free time. I also advertised for pen pals in Wizard Magazine when I was 12 as an American comic book fan and got a few good anime pen pals from there. (And far too many creeps, ha—don’t try that at home, kids!)
We mostly just talked about anime and what had happened in our lives since we’d last been in touch. We traded photocopies of anime news from Japanese magazines we’d get at comic shops and speculate about seasons of anime we hadn’t seen yet. And yeah, we swapped fansubs on VHS, long before anime was as easy to get. At one point, I had this pen pal I sent two letters a week to—we’d answer the questions in one letter while waiting for the other to arrive—but I wasn’t able to keep in touch with her for long, sadly. She was a Sailor Moon fan who introduced me to Fushigi Yuugi and Watase Yuu, so I’ll always remember her. (Sara R., if you’re reading this, message me to say hello! 😉
I cannot believe you still keep in touch with some pen pals! How did that progress over the years? I still wrote letters regularly throughout my high school and college years, though I’d say it dropped down to about 20 in high school and 10-15 in college. Right about then, the Internet was becoming a more integral part of daily life (we’d had AOL before that, but you were charged by the hour and it tied up your phone line, so I hardly spent more than an hour or two each week online) and most of us got MySpace pages and then Facebook pages and eventually, we signed up for all the social media accounts that are popular these days. We exchanged our online info and then started messaging each other online, which was obviously a lot faster than waiting the week to three weeks it took me to write a reply by hand and send it back then. We all “grew up” and got busier and online just seemed easier, especially since we can check in with each other daily to talk about anime or actually, mostly just see what’s up. (A number of them aren’t as into anime as they once were, but most of them still watch a handful of series each year and one of them still loves anime a ton; she’s the woman behind The Anime Nostalgia podcast.) I still wrote a letter about once every three months to two pals who aren’t that into social media and email up until a couple of years ago, but it just became too much for me to even do that, unfortunately. Oh, and a fun fact: Since I met most of the pals I’m still in touch with through the same FBs, they’ve all been pen pals with each other for decades, too, so we’re kind of a clique, though of course we have our own online and IRL friends from other sources as well.
Do you remember your first convention? What was it, and what was it like? Anime Central in 2002. I had a blast. I went with my sister and met a few of my pen pals briefly while there. I cosplayed as Sora from Digimon the first year, got a few dub actors’ autographs, and went to a few of their panels. (I watched a larger amount of dubs in those days, although I still preferred subtitles.) I remember the Masquerade being especially fun to watch. I think that was the year I got a huge Pyocola from DiGi Charat plush for only $5 on the last day. I was so surprised it was so cheap (because everyone had those DiGi plushes that year) that I had to double-check the price, much to the seller’s apparent annoyance.
You went to ACen with your sister. Was she an anime fan too? What did she and the rest of your family think of your interest in anime? My sister is a low-key anime fan, I’d say. She also liked Sailor Moon and watched quite a few series back in the day on my recommendation—Tenchi Muyo! and El-Hazard being a couple of her favorites, but even more recently, Polar Bear Café and some of Chi’s Sweet Home—but she’s always preferred dubs to subs, so she’s not that interested in the streaming-almost-instantly anime of today. We both saw some dub voice actors we liked in the late ’90s/early ’00s at the con together, though. (See pics of me with Brad Swaile and Crispin Freeman.) My sister can sew and I can’t, so she helped me put some of my more basic costumes together. (Like Sora from Digimon.)
My parents knew their kids were geeks. (My sister got me into American superhero comics and my mom got us both into Archie Comics as a kid.) They were pretty supportive, even if they didn’t understand any of it. My mom actually did watch a Studio Ghibli movie marathon on TCM a while back, though, and loved all the movies and she’s a Professor Layton fan, so I showed her that movie, too. My whole extended family knows me as the “Japanese cartoon” fan and two of my cousins are/were anime fans, too. They got me into Berserk and we exchanged Ranma ½, Sailor Moon, and Revolutionary Girl Utena manga and anime growing up.
Finally, for you, what’s the biggest change between your anime fandom then and now? The instant access! I would have wept with joy to have that way back when. An anime episode airs in Japan and you’re watching it translated on your TV less than a day later. I was definitely a more devoted anime fan back then—for example, I wore anime T-shirts a lot as a teen but almost never wear anything like that now. I do have a way bigger manga collection now since manga didn’t really take off here until the 2000s. Also, my room was full wall-to-wall with anime and other pop culture goodies, and I’ve definitely toned that down these days. I’d say American TV has improved a lot since the ’90s (the “Golden Age of TV” and all that), so whereas in the ’90s, I basically watched anime and played games in my free time, watching very little American TV, now I probably love more American shows than anime. At the same time, because of the easy access, I’m watching more anime than I did back then and it’s still a huge part of who I am.
Amy can be reached on Twitter.